King Khafre Seated
Egyptian art is infamous across the world – classified by the monumental pyramids, and the Sphinx. Although these are both valid forms of Egyptian art, they do not make up the entire artistic history of the country. On the contrary, perhaps the most replicated example of classic Egyptian art, from the Old Kingdom, can be found in their rendering of the human form. An interest in portraiture developed early in Egypt. (Gardner, 75) Whether painted on pottery, or cut into rock, the figures all had notably Egyptian characteristics. “The seated statue is one of only a very small number of basic formulaic types employed by the sculptors of the Old Kingdom.” (Gardner, 75)
The statue of King Khafre Seated , from the fourth dynasty of the Old Kingdom, 2520 – 2492 BCE, was created by an unknown artist in the smooth permanence of graywacke stone. Although the statue is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as number 56 in the Special Egyptian Exhibition, its true home is at the Egyptian Museum, in Cairo. The man being portrayed, King Khafre, ruled Egypt for approximately thirty years, during which he commissioned the single most recognizable monuments of Egypt, the a fore mentioned Pyramids at Giza and the Sphinx. These monuments of symmetry and solidity characterize the focus of popular architecture and sculpture from the Old Kingdom in Egypt.
Two main devices used in Egyptian art from the fourth dynasty, that also help classify it, are a strive for naturalism and the use of sculpture in the round. In addition to the large burial monuments being built, portraiture became quite popular at this time in history. Paintings featuring humans used their own form of “sculpture in the round” by painting in a composite view. No matter how contorted a position may be in reality, Egyptian artists worked so that every aspect of the human form was represented. Another popular form of portraiture was in the form of ka statues of important people like the pharaoh, built to adorn that person?s burial tomb. In making these funerary statues,
“?sculpture in the round served the important function of creating an image of the deceased that could serve as an abode for the ka, should the mummy be destroyed? Thus, too, permanence of style and material was essential?stone was the primary material.” (Gardner, 75)
This particular ka statue of King Khafre Seated is only one out of the original twenty-three from the pharaoh?s burial tomb of the valley temple, at Giza. (Met.) King Khafre?s reign was one of great royalty and splendor; not only did the pharaoh commission grandiose monuments that extended into the sky, but he also had multiple funerary statues in his likeness built for the use of his ka once he was dead and placed inside valley temple. Although the individual artists of these ka statues are unknown, they all portrayed Khafre in the same basic way. This specific artist carved out of dark graywacke in order to capture the naturalistic, yet idealized, form of King Khafre, and, in doing so showcased his own expertise as a craftsman.
The artist captured the royalty of the king by dressing this nearly life-size replica in the traditional kilt, fake beard, and linen headdress. “As befitting a divinity, Khafre is shown with a well – developed, flawless body and a perfect face.” This being accomplished through a combination of the accomplished craftsman and the smooth, richness of the dark stone that Khafre is sculpted from. The statue was built a”?canon of ideal proportions, designated as appropriate for the representation of imposing majesty?” (Gardner, 75) Another identifying feature of the pharaoh can be found on the unusually back-less throne that the Khafre figure sits on. It is decorated “?with the sema – tawi, an emblem of unification that combines the hieroglyph sema (”union) with the symbols for the two lands of Egypt – papyrus for the north and a flower for the south.”(Met) Other hieroglyphs are displayed on the front of the throne, by the figure?s legs, perhaps representing Khafre?s name or his dynasty. One hieroglyph, that of a bird, may, in fact, represent “the falcon of Horus, indicating the pharaoh?s divine status,” as some other ka statues of Khafre provide an indication of Horus.(Gardner, 75 – 76)
The compact figure of Khafre sits in a sort of permanence with no projecting limbs or easily breakable parts.
“The sculptor produced the statue by first drawing the front, back, and two profile views of the pharaoh on the four vertical faces of the stone block; by chiseling away the excess stone on each side, working inward until the planes met at right angles; then rounding the corners. This subtractive method of creating the pharaoh?s portrait accounts in large parts for the blocklike look of the standard Egyptian statue,” (Gardner, 75)
This form of carving and creating statues is one that not only encompassed Khafre?s reign, but extended beyond and is apparent in later dynasties as well. The statues adorning the front of the Temple of Ramses, for example, have the same basic positioning, and rendering as the ka statue of King Khafre Seated. Therefore, two things become apparent, one is that a similar technique of carving was used for the Ramses figures, and the other is that sculptors of later years would look back at the ka statues built in the fourth dynasty as a template for their own.
Similar examples of sculpture go on for years after Khafre?s reign, the fourth dynasty was just the beginning. Monumental Egypt, although it existed in burial tombs before Khafre?s reign, truly became a traditional pattern in the fourth dynasty. Khafre?s seated ka statues were numerous and perhaps the beginning of the formulaic sculpting of Egyptian ka statues. The King Khafre Seated that is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art now is not only the best ka statue of Khafre in existence, but perhaps one of the best examples of classic Egyptian sculpture from the Old Kingdom.
1. Tansey, Richard G., and Kleiner, Fred S., Gardener?s Art Through the Ages, Harcourt Brace
and Company, Fort Worth, TX, 1996, tenth edition, volume II, pp 73 – 85.
2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Special Egyptian Exhibitian, no. 56. King Khafre Seated
statue label. 5th Ave. and 82nd St. New York, NY.